Holidays & Travel

How safe is your luggage when you check it in?

A travel expert shares everything you need to know.

Baggage handlers work hard to get luggage from A to B.
Young woman with a suitcase stands on a hill and looks out over the sea Baggage handlers work hard to get luggage from A to B. (Alamy Stock Photo)

Have you ever wondered what happens to your luggage when you take a flight to go on holiday and check in?

Many questions and causes for concern can pop up too. Will it reach my destination? What happens if it gets lost or damaged?

But how safe is your luggage really when you check it in? A travel expert shares some insider information and explains everything you need to know.

What happens to your luggage at the airport?

According to Justin Penny, head of aviation at Flight Centre UK, at check-in, the traveller will weigh the item and the check-in agent will print a label which contains information on the traveller, the flight number, and departure and arrival airport codes.

“It then goes on a conveyor belt where baggage handlers will inspect the items for security purposes and redirect them to the correct flight once cleared,” said Penny.

(Alamy Stock Photo)

“Once loaded onto the plane, they are stored securely in the hold which the passenger cannot access. On landing, they are unloaded from the hold, driven to the terminal, and unloaded onto conveyor belts which will emerge at the baggage reclaim section.

“If a journey involves a connecting flight that doesn’t involve going through customs and re-entering airside through security, your baggage will be transferred to the next aircraft. However, for long international layovers, you may be temporarily reunited with your luggage before checking it back in for the next leg of the journey.”

Why and how do items get lost? 

Airport staff process so many checked items a day, meaning there’s always room for error.

“Checked items often get lost during flight connections and this can be the result of either mislabelling at the check-in desk, or a lack of time to transfer the baggage at the connecting airport,” said Penny.

“While human error is the most likely cause, even a label falling off from the journey between check-in and collection can cause bags to go missing in transit. At this point, baggage handlers leave no stone unturned looking for clues to associate the item to its owner.”

How is luggage treated?

Baggage handlers work hard to get luggage from A to B as quickly as they can and often have to work fast to ensure bags make their all-important connections.

(Alamy Stock Photo)

“Though highly uncommon, baggage can sometimes be damaged in the process, particularly hard-shell luggage with a thin casing, or luggage with handles left up or attachments that can get caught in machines,” said Penny.

“We recommend that all luggage is folded away properly, so handles, flaps and attachments don’t get caught and broken while passing through the airport.

“Try wrapping up your valuables or fragile items in pieces of clothes within your suitcase to add extra cushioning. For travellers embarking on a backpacking adventure, you may have to register your backpack with ‘oversized bags’.

“But don’t worry, this shouldn’t incur an extra fee, so long as the dimensions fit with the airline’s rules; this is to ensure any backpack buckles or straps don’t become caught within the airport’s travelators and cause a jam, and these items are instead loaded onto the aircraft by hand.”

What should you do if it happens to you?

For Penny, most importantly, if luggage is damaged or missing, travellers should always notify the airline or the airline’s handling agent before leaving the airport.

“Travellers should also contact their travel insurance provider. Flight Centre recently launched Captain’s Pack, a range of benefits essential to hassle-free travel that offer peace of mind – the lost luggage tracking and cover is undoubtedly the most popular add-on among our customers travelling long-haul, or with connections.

(Alamy Stock Photo)

“Is luggage all treated the same, or do priority seats or airlines receive different treatment? All that insider stuff we’d love to know and ask directly, how safe is your luggage when you check it in?

“When travelling internationally, all luggage passes through security and into the belly of the airport to be processed and sent to the correct aircraft. Here, baggage handlers and some machines process the luggage.

“For those travellers with airline membership status and/or flying in premium cabins, their luggage is prioritised and tends to be offloaded from the aircraft first, meaning speedy pick-up once at your destination.”